Winter 2003 Volume XVIII, No. 1

In this issue:

The Director's Report

Do you have adequate searching skills?

New Full-text Databases available in the library

Can you locate an article electronically?

PDA News - Users group and wireless synching station

Pubmed Tips - "The Cubby"

Web Watcher - About Evidence Based Medicine

New Books

Dictionary of Medical Eponyms on the Web

Blast from the Past!

Update Archives


Editor: Robert M. Joven, MLS Information & Education Services Ext. 8493 E-mail -



Do you have adequate searching skills?

by Robert Joven, MLS
Information & Education Services Librarian

A Johns Hopkins panel investigating the June 2001 death of a volunteer in a Johns Hopkins University asthma study concluded that the principal researcher may have neglected to do a thorough search of the literature on the drug hexamethonium before the drug was used in a clinical investigation. The researcher searched PubMed, which indexes articles back to 1966, as well as a limited number of other resources, but missed earlier reports of the drug's toxicity. Medical journal articles published in the 1950s (not available in Pubmed) apparently warned of lung damage caused by hexamethonium.
Both clinical and administrative errors may have been made during this asthma study. The initial inadequate search of the medical literature, however, probably laid the groundwork for tragedy. It is this aspect of the case that concerns medical librarians. The limited number of resources used by the Johns Hopkins searcher impaired the comprehensiveness, or exhaustive nature, of the search. Inadequate searching skills can pose another kind of obstacle to a good literature search by compromising the refinement, or depth, of the search.

What can be done to ensure that a literature search is, at the very least, sufficient for patient safety? Knowing what resources are available and an adequate searching skill are the key ingredients to a successful literature search.

Medline, covering approximately 4300 biomedical journals from 1966 to the present is an excellent place to start searching. However, Medline should not be considered the endpoint of comprehensive literature searching. Medline’s journal coverage is extensive but it represents only a portion of the number of biomedical journals published worldwide. Other databases such as Web of Science, Biological Abstracts, Chemical Abstracts, PsycInfo are considered valuable resources other than Medline.

Prior to 1966, OLDMEDLINE is available through the NLM Gateway at It contains citations from 1957-1965. More details about these earlier online citations may be found at
Prior to 1957 there is NO online source from the National Library of Medicine. To cover prior years of medical literature, the print Index Medicus and other print sources must be searched manually. We all know it is convenient to do a literature search from a computer. However, the researcher should never discount the use of print resources. The accumulated knowledge of prior years is not always available at the click of a mouse. Libraries still house and maintain valuable print resources. These print sources may have no electronic equivalents.

It is probable that the principal researcher in the Johns Hopkins case acted in good faith in his search of the literature. But he may have lacked an understanding of the complexity of literature searching as well as the more advanced searching skills necessary to perform adequately on his own. Those who are fairly new to searching, or unaware of a database's advanced features, may be easily satisfied with their first results. Librarians, who have several years of daily experience with database searching, still have to take time and thought when formulating a search strategy. The competent use of MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) vocabulary and subheadings is essential to a thorough search in the MEDLINE database.

It is important to realize that when in doubt, or if any concerns arise about the completeness of your information when doing a literature search, you must contact a medical librarian. They offer many services to help conduct an adequate literature search. They have the knowledge and the expertise to search different databases to ensure an effective literature search.

The Information and Education Services Department at the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library provide different types of instructions to help you improve your searching skills depending on your need. We offer a regularly scheduled monthly library classes, a one-on-one 30-minute consultation, and specialized database instruction for individuals or groups upon request. These services are free to the faculty, staff, and students of the Health Center. We also offer a Mediated Database Searching service. These searches, performed by the Information and Education Services Librarian, are available for a fee. If you have any questions regarding any of these services, or to schedule a session with a librarian, please call us at 679-4051 or send us an e-mail at





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